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Packers at the Bye: Defensive Line

With 12 games down and a fight for the No. 1 seed and the playoffs on the horizon, here’s the key on defensive line for the Green Bay Packers.

GREEN BAY, Wis. – If you’re looking for an underrated defensive MVP for the Green Bay Packers, you could go with Kenny Clark’s groin.

Coming off a monster 2019 season that earned him a monster contract extension, Clark suffered a groin injury in last year’s opener. The injury sidelined him for three games and limited him in several others.

Clark went from 62 tackles, six sacks, nine tackles for losses and, according to Pro Football Focus, 69 pressures in 16 games in 2019 to 42 tackles, two sacks, three tackles for losses and 32 pressures in 13 games in 2020.

Clark has stayed healthy this season, which is a reason why the Packers entered the bye ranked fifth in scoring and seventh in yards. In a dozen games, he’s got 39 tackles, four sacks and six tackles for losses. That’s not an enormous improvement over last season. However, he’s recorded 47 pressures – 15 more in one fewer game.

Compared to the NFL’s other interior defenders, Clark ranks second in pressures – two fewer than Tennessee’s Jeffrey Simmons and two more than the Rams’ indomitable Aaron Donald. Of 62 interior defenders with at least 200 pass rushes, Clark’s win rate of 15.6 percent ranks eighth. According to Sports Info Solutions, Clark’s average tackle has come 2.0 yards downfield – 0.6 yards better than last year and just 0.1 yards behind his 2019 clip.

No different than past seasons, Clark is to the defensive line as Davante Adams is to the receivers. Yes, Dean Lowry, Kingsley Keke, Tyler Lancaster and TJ Slaton have had their moments. But they’ve been fleeting. Against the Rams, Clark had six tackles, one sack and two quarterback hits in 52 snaps. The other defensive linemen combined for zero tackles, zero sacks and one quarterback hit in 72 snaps.

In the four games from Week 5 through Week 8, Lowry had 15 tackles and at least a half-sack in each game. In the last four games, he’s got four tackles and one quarterback hit.

Last year, Keke had four sacks and eight quarterback hits. This year, he’s got 2.5 sacks and two quarterback hits. He played 32 snaps vs. the Rams and doesn’t show up anywhere on the official stats but had a season-high four pressures, according to PFF.

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Lancaster had three tackles for losses in 43 games over his first three seasons. He’s got three this year, with two of those coming at Minnesota.

Of Slaton’s five pressures, three came against Seattle.

With the calendar having turned to December, the Packers need Clark to reprise his role of Ol’ Man Winter. In six seasons, Clark has 26 career sacks – 22.5 in the regular season and 3.5 in the playoffs. More than half, 13.5, have come in December and January. Of his six career games with seven-plus tackles, four have come in December and January. He was a brute during last year’s playoffs. Against Tampa Bay, his eight tackles resulted in a total gain of 8 yards.

The Packers need Clark to reach that level again. And he could use a bit more help than he’s been getting from his friends.

Packers at the Bye Series

Quarterbacks

Running backs

Tight ends

Receivers

Offensive line